Compared to the rest of the nation, Wisconsin boasts a high level of educational attainment. As a recent study from the Lumina Foundation notes, 41.1 percent of Wisconsin adults ages 25-64 held at least a two-year degree in 2013, compared to just 40 percent nationally. The study, aptly named A Stronger Nation through Higher Education, also shows that these numbers may be on the upswing. According to the stats, the percentage of state residents with a college degree has inched up considerably since 2008, when only 38 percent of adults had a two-year degree or better.
Still, Wisconsin has room for improvement. As the Lumina Foundation data shows, 29.22 percent of Wisconsin adults held only a high school diploma in 2013, whereas 22.20 percent had some college, but no degree. That same year, 11.49 percent held an associate degree, 20.06 percent held a bachelor's, and 9.52 percent had a graduate or professional degree. As you can see, a large percentage of Wisconsin's adult population stands to benefit from earning a degree, finishing a degree they started, or perhaps reaching higher levels of educational attainment by heading back to school.
Fortunately, Wisconsin residents have plenty of options when it comes to pursuing higher education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 118 colleges, universities, trade schools, and career colleges are actively educating students in the state as of 2015.
In addition to traditional four-year schools, Wisconsin offers a wide range of technical training institutes and community colleges, as well as beauty and barber colleges. Meanwhile, distance learning is also well-represented in Wisconsin. While many of the top schools focus on their on-campus programs, a handful also have booming online education programs that make educational attainment possible for a wider range of students.
Why Should I Earn a Degree in Wisconsin?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wisconsin's workforce included 2,727,860 workers in 2014, with a mean annual wage of $42,880. College-educated workers in the state stand to earn higher than average pay, however. The following chart shows just some of the careers in Wisconsin that employed a high number of college graduates in 2015:
Number of Workers
|Office and Administrative Support Occupations||409,650||$35,690|
|Sales and Related Occupations||267,760||$39,530|
|Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations||243,460||$21,480|
|Transportation and Material Moving Occupations||207,360||$34,960|
|Education, Training, and Library Occupations||164,820||$50,530|
|Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations||162,560||$77,480|
|Business and Financial Operations Occupations||133,960||$63,500|
|Personal Care and Service Occupations||113,760||$24,470|
|Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations||107,520||$45,400|
|Construction and Extraction Occupations||97,890||$51,600|
|Office Clerks, General||84,250||$33,520|
|Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Occupations||80,870||$26,670|
As you can see, college-educated workers across all industries can be highly compensated for their skills and abilities in Wisconsin. However, as Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development notes, certain industries have deeper roots in the state than others. As of 2015, key industries in the state included water technology, bioscience, manufacturing, and agriculture. In the field of bioscience alone, Wisconsin boasts a 50 percent greater employment concentration in medical device manufacturing than the national average.
In manufacturing overall, Wisconsin has the second highest concentration of jobs in the nation. And since 9,500 manufacturers call Wisconsin home, manufactured goods make up 85 percent of all exports from the state. Top manufacturing employers in Wisconsin include Ariens, Briggs & Stratton, Harley Davidson, Kohler, and Krones, among others.
Beyond industry, Wisconsin has a ton to offer in terms of higher education. Students seeking on-campus or online degrees in Wisconsin can choose from a wide range of traditional two-year or four-year schools. The largest college system in the state, the University of Wisconsin System, includes 13 separate college campuses with a total enrollment of more than 160,000 students in 2014.
In addition to on-campus instruction, the University of Wisconsin is also a state leader in online education. Through its online interface, the school currently offers dozens of online certificate programs, associate degree programs, bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, and doctorates. Meanwhile, other schools like Concordia University also offer their share of online degrees in Wisconsin.
For Wisconsin workers, the fact that higher education is so readily available is good news. And that's especially true for workers who plan to pursue education in a trade or technical field. According to data provided by the state, 66 percent of Wisconsin's 3.2 million jobs will require educational training above a high school degree but below a bachelor's degree by 2018. In other words, associate and technical/training programs could turn out to be especially good investments for residents.
Still, Wisconsin has a lot to offer outside of jobs and schools. Here are some fun facts about the state that you probably didn't know:
- Love cheese? Wisconsin is the only state in the nation to offer its own Master Cheesemaker program. The state also produces more cheese than any other state in the nation.
- The Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw Festival, held in Sauk City and Prairie du Sac, is the world's largest celebration and competition of its kind.
- Love water parks? The Wisconsin Dells boasts the largest concentration of water parks in the world.
- Wisconsin's rivers and streams would stretch a full 26,767 miles if laid end to end.
- Middleton, Wisconsin is home to the National Mustard Museum. There, you can see a collection that include 5,300 different types of mustard from 60 countries.
What Makes Wisconsin Ideal for Online Education?
Although educational attainment is on the rise in Wisconsin, certain parts of the state boast higher numbers of college grads than others. As the Lumina Foundation notes, the following Wisconsin counties reported a higher-than-average percentage of adults with at least a two-year degree in 2013:
- Dane: 58.87 percent
- Ozaukee: 57.41 percent
- Eau Claire: 57.54 percent
- Waukesha: 54.33 percent
- St. Croix: 48.30 percent
Certain counties, particularly in rural areas, are lagging behind, however. And that's part of the reason why online education in Wisconsin is so important. According to the experts, distance education can create the perfect learning scenario for those who don't live near a brick-and-mortar school. Because of the flexibility these programs offer, anyone in the state with an internet connection can choose to pursue a degree either full- or part-time.
Further, online education can be ideal for those who need to continue working while they earn their degree.
"Particularly for busy adults, online universities offer accessibility and flexibility, making it possible for them to fit college into their busy lives," says Darren Upham, Vice President of Enrollment at Western Governor's University.
Even better, online education in Wisconsin has improved immeasurably in terms of quality of instruction and delivery over the past decade.
"With many online universities, the only difference for students is that rather than reporting to class in person, they sign on to class at an appointed time," says Upham. "Courses are still structured the same way, with an instructor leading a class, a syllabus, and a schedule."
According to Upham, the way online degree programs are set up also makes it conceivable for schools to offer competency-based programming, which can help students with work experience or prior education earn a degree in a shorter length of time.
At his school, for example, online learning is entirely competency-based, meaning that students can move through levels at their own pace.
"Students at WGU have 24/7 access to all learning materials, studying and learning on their own schedules and at their own pace," explains Upham. "And, rather than waiting for the end of semester, students complete courses as soon as they demonstrate (through proctored exams, presentations, and projects) their mastery of course material. This allows them to move quickly through what they already know so they can focus on the material they still need to learn."
As a result, many students can accelerate their time to degree, says Upham, saving both time and money.
Overall, the added flexibility that online degrees offer can be a win-win for both schools and students. No matter where you live in Wisconsin, it's possible to find an online degree program that you can complete at your own pace, and from the comfort of your own home.
Top 10 Degrees in Wisconsin
While pursuing higher education is almost always a good investment, some degrees may pay off more than others in the long run. Using wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and employment predictions from the U.S. Department of Labor, we compiled this list of top degrees in Wisconsin:
Fluency in a foreign language can be especially useful in the business world. However, many people pursue foreign language degrees in order to find work as an interpreter or translator. Because of the increased use of languages other than English in the United States, demand for these workers is at an all-time high. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Labor predicts that employment of interpreters and translators could increase by as much as 45 percent in Wisconsin from 2012 to 2022.
Diagnostic Medical Sonography
With the need for health care growing nationwide, experience in ultrasound technology has never been more in demand. By earning a degree in diagnostic medical sonography, you could begin a career in this budding field. Currently, the U.S. Department of Labor predicts that employment of these professionals could surge by as much as 41 percent in Wisconsin from 2012 to 2022. High pay also adds to the allure of this degree. As of 2014, diagnostic medical sonographers earned a mean annual wage of $77,320 in Wisconsin.
Aerospace engineering is a growing industry in Wisconsin. And with a degree in the field, graduates may be able to find work as an aerospace engineer. As the BLS notes, these professionals earned a mean annual wage of $105,070 in Wisconsin in 2014. Meanwhile, other government figures show that employment of aerospace engineers in the state could rise by as much as 38 percent from 2012 to 2022.
A degree in hospitality management could lead to a number of careers in the tourism and event industry, including meeting, convention, or event planner. Because of the growing demand for professionals who have the know-how to organize large events, employment in this field is expected to increase 32 percent in Wisconsin from 2012 to 2022.
Earning a degree in actuarial science is the best way to begin a career as an actuary. Using complex math and computers, these professionals compile figures and data to create predictions and pricing for products and services. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that employment of actuaries in Wisconsin could increase by as much as 30 percent from 2012 to 2022.
With a love of animals and the right degree program, you could begin a career as a veterinary technologist or technician. In most cases, these professionals get their start by earning an associate degree in veterinary technology. Because of the ongoing need for animal care, government sources predict that employment in this field could increase by as much as 29 percent in Wisconsin during the decade leading up to 2022.
As businesses continue to rely on marketing experts to sell their products and services, a degree in marketing could be a wise investment. Because of the ongoing demand in this field, job opportunities for marketing specialists and market research analysts are expected to increase 26 percent in Wisconsin from 2012 to 2022. High pay also adds to the overall value of this degree. As of 2014, marketing specialists and market research analysts in Wisconsin earned a mean annual wage of $56,410.
A degree in computer science could lead to several high-demand careers in Wisconsin. For example, graduates might go on to become information security analysts or computer systems analysts, both jobs projected to experience huge growth over the coming decade. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Labor predicts employment of information security analysts and computer systems analysts to increase 26 percent and 22 percent, respectively, in Wisconsin from 2012 to 2022.
Transportation, Supply Chain, and Logistics
Earning a degree in transportation, supply chain management, or logistics is a great way to find work as a logistician. Using their skills and expertise, these professionals figure out the best and most cost effective ways to move products and supplies from place to place. Because of the ongoing demand for transportation services, employment of logisticians in Wisconsin is expected to increase 21 percent between 2012 and 2022. The fact that this degree often leads to high pay helps with its popularity as well. As of 2014, logisticians in Wisconsin earned a mean annual wage of $66,040.
By earning a degree in medical technology, students can get on the fast track towards a career as a medical or clinical laboratory technologist. Using complex medical instruments in a laboratory setting, these workers conduct experiments that help lead to breakthroughs in a wide range of industries. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that demand for medical and clinical laboratory technologists could increase by as much as 25 percent in Wisconsin from 2012 to 2022. High pay also helps make this a top degree among students. As of 2014, these workers earned a mean annual wage of $56,750 in the state.
Top Cities for Wisconsin College Students
Boasting a population of almost 600,000 in 2013, Milwaukee is Wisconsin's largest city by far. Located on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee is also the county seat of Milwaukee County and the principal city of the Milwaukee-Racine-Waukesha metropolitan area.
With a gorgeous lakefront, Milwaukee offers plenty in terms of recreation, plus plenty to do and events to participate in at venues like the Milwaukee Riverwalk, Wisconsin Center, Milwaukee Art Museum, and Pier Wisconsin. Low housing costs also add to the city's popularity. According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the median housing value in the area was only $127,400 in 2013.
In addition, Milwaukee offers plenty in terms of higher education. The National Center for Education Statistics lists 20 schools as active in the Milwaukee area, including these prominent schools:
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
With over 27,000 students in attendance in 2014, the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee is one of the state's largest schools. The university also offers one of the biggest lists of degree options in Wisconsin, with plenty of online and distance learning options as well. For the 2014-15 school year, tuition and fees averaged out to $9,391 for in-state students. The school is known for the following programs:
- Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering
- Bachelor of Science in Health Care Administration
- Bachelor of Science in Educational Studies
Milwaukee Area Technical College
As a two-year vocational school, Milwaukee Area Technical College offers a wide range of associate degrees and technical certificates aimed at preparing students for quick entry into the workforce. Current enrollment includes 16,712 students and tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year averaged out to $4,282. Here are a few of their most popular programs:
- Associate of Science in Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Technology
- Associate of Science in Accounting
- Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene
Marquette University is a large institution of higher education that offers an extremely wide range of degree options. Currently, that includes 78 majors and 77 minors for undergraduates, 21 doctoral programs, 43 master's degree programs, and 33 graduate certificates. Enrollment as of 2014 included 11,745 students, and tuition and fees that year averaged out to $35,930. Some of Marquette's most popular programs include:
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing
- Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering
- Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering
Madison is the state's second largest city, containing a population of 243,344, as of 2013. Home to the state's largest school, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as many state and local government offices, Madison features an economy that is mostly built on academic and government employment. High levels of educational attainment attract employers from other industries, however, including technology and manufacturing. As the U.S. Census Bureau notes, 53.8 percent of Madison's adult population held at least a bachelor's degree in 2013, which is much higher than the national average.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 11 colleges, universities, trade schools, and career training centers operate out of Madison. Here are a few of the most popular:
University of Wisconsin-Madison
UW-Madison had a student population of over 42,000 in 2014, making it both large in size and teeming with culture. Ranked among the top four research universities in the nation, the school offers a lot in terms of academics, including over 4,700 separate courses. Tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year averaged out to $10,410 for in-state students, and the university is known for these programs:
- Bachelor of Science in Biology
- Bachelor of Science in Accounting
- Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
With an enrollment of a little over 2,900 students and a student-to-faculty ratio of 13:1, Edgewood College maintains a focus on small classes and intimate instruction. Tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year averaged out to $25,590. However, the school maintains that 95 percent of its students receive financial aid. Some of their most popular programs from the 60 majors and 40 minors currently available are:
- Bachelor of Science in Accounting
- Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems
- Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
Madison Area Technical College
As a technical/vocational institution of higher education, Madison Area Technical College offers career training in 144 different fields. The school's enrollment of 16,579 students in 2014 included individuals working their way into fields such as dental care and fashion marketing. Tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year averaged out to $4,133, and some of their top programs include:
- Associate of Applied Science in Dental Hygiene
- Associate of Applied Science in Civil Engineering Technology
- Associate of Applied Science in Finance
With almost 105,000 residents in 2013, Green Bay is Wisconsin's third largest city by population. It is known for its dynamic location at the mouth of the Fox River on Lake Michigan, and as the home of the Green Bay Packers.
In addition to plenty to see and do for sports fans, Green Bay offers the National Railroad Museum, the Neville Public Museum, and its own children's museum. Low housing costs also help with Green Bay's popularity. According to recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, the median housing value in the city was only $128,900 in 2013.
Green Bay is home to seven institutions of higher education, including these top schools:
Northeast Wisconsin Technical College
Northeast Wisconsin Technical College serves over 42,000 students each year. As a career-minded technical school, they currently offer 100+ degrees, diplomas, and apprenticeships, and more than 80 certificate programs. Tuition and fees averaged out to $4,198 for the 2014-15 school year, and some of their more popular program options include:
- Automotive Maintenance Technician Technical Diploma
- Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene
- Associate of Science in Construction Technology
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
With a current enrollment of over 6,900 students, the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay features over 40 different majors and minors to choose from. A student-to-faculty ratio of 22:1 proves the school's commitment to intimacy despite the fact they are part of a larger university system. Estimated costs for Wisconsin residents are rather affordable as well. For the 2015-16 school year, tuition and fees average out to approximately $7,824 for in-state students. Here are a few programs they are known for:
- Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
- Bachelor of Science in Geography
- Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering Technology
Rasmussen College offers a wide range of traditional and online degree programs in over 70 disciplines. Current enrollment includes over 1,100 students, and tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year averaged out to $10,764. A few of Rasmussen's most popular programs include:
- Online Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management
- Online RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing
- Bachelor of Science in Finance
Scholarships and Financial Aid
According to the College Board, tuition rates for Wisconsin colleges and universities are pretty reasonable. Here's a breakdown of the average cost of tuition and fees at Wisconsin schools for the 2014-15 school year:
- Public Two-Year: $4,307
- Public Four-Year: $8,781
- Private Nonprofit Four-Year: $30,930
While those numbers may seem high, it's important to realize that many students qualify for scholarships or financial aid, including federal financial aid. Before you begin the application process, it's important to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA form. The information provided helps state and federal agencies determine eligibility for tuition assistance. Federal aid can include, but is not limited to: Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants, and Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants.
The State of Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board website also lists several resources with information on state aid options. Aid specific to Wisconsin students may include, but is not limited to:
- Wisconsin Grants
- Talent Incentive Program Grant
- Indian Student Assistant Grant
- Minority Undergraduate Retention Grant
- Hearing and Visually Handicapped Student Grant
- Academic Excellence Scholarship
- Technical Excellence Scholarship
In addition to these aid resources, students may also qualify for special loans and tuition reciprocity programs. Students interested in learning more about state and federal financial aid should contact their school's financial aid office.
A Stronger Nation through Higher Education, Lumina Foundation, Wisconsin, http://strongernation.luminafoundation.org/report/#wisconsin
College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
Developing Our Workforce, Office of the Governor Scott Walker, http://walker.wi.gov/wisconsin-priority/developing-our-workforce
Fastest Growing Occupations, CareerOneStop, http://acinet.org/oview1.asp?next=oview1&Level=edu4&optstatus=&jobfam=&id=1&nodeid=3&soccode=&stfips=55&ShowAll=
Financial Aid Programs, State of Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board, http://www.heab.state.wi.us/programs.html
Leading Industries, Select Wisconsin, http://inwisconsin.com/select-wisconsin/leading-industries/
May 2014 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wisconsin, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_wi.htm
State and County QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, Green Bay, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/55/5531000.html
State and County QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, Madison, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/55/5548000.html
State and County QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, Milwaukee, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/55/5553000.html
Tuition and Fees by Sector and State Over Time, College Board, http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/tuition-fees-sector-state-time